Now that used to mean getting myself down to the nearest pub and . . . well, singing a lot of Irish songs into the night. And perhaps imbibing in a pint or two. (Kit, this is the point where you don’t snort your coffee all over your keyboard, nor do you comment.) But life is so very different now. This year it has turned into discovering my Irish roots in another way: Discovering the most authenticate and perfect recipe for Irish Soda Bread.
This all started about a week ago when my son’s teacher put out a call for parents to volunteer to make Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day for the kids to take over to the retirement home across the street from his school. They go over there on holidays, take the residents cookies and such and visit with them and sing them songs. I gamely raised my hand and volunteered and then panicked a bit. Sure, I’m a good part Irish, but I’ve never made soda bread in my life.
So I did what any American-Irish would do. I went in search of my roots. Via O’Google. And found two likely recipes. The contenders were: Martha Stewart’s Recipe and Simply Recipes. Thus began the Boyle Irish Soda Bread Test kitchen.
Of course, as ancient tradition dictates, I got out my O’Kitchen Aid mixer and my Cuisanart. Essential for that authentic taste. The differences you will note in the recipes is the volume of eggs, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. And in Martha’s, she makes that addition of the caraway seeds. Hmm. Since I knew one of the test eaters would probably stick his little nose in the air if he heard the word caraway, I made the Simply Recipe version early in the week. The test eaters devoured it. The loaf turned out wonderful. Sorry no pictures. Like I said, devoured.
What I also discovered is that soda bread traverses all meals. Makes awesome toast in the morning. A nice hearty slice goes well with your lunch salad. And warm from the oven and sliced, it makes a nice addition to dinner. We Irish are a clever bunch, if I do say so myself.
So on Sunday, with St. Patrick’s day just 24 hours away, I had to get serious. First into the oven was the Martha version.
And it came out with this really disappointing crust and, well, really heavy. Look at it up there–it looks so pale and lackluster. Even the addition of butter on the crust before baking didn’t make it brown nicely. I think with the extra eggs and butter and sugar, it makes it just too darn heavy. Dense. Now I know it is supposed to be somewhat dense, but this is verging on concrete. The caraway seeds add a nice flavor, but it just wasn’t that homey loaf I was looking for.
So back to the Simply recipe. And I turned out two loaves (without the mixer. Yes, I did it by hand.) and instead of baking them in a heavy duty cast iron skillet I used a heavy duty cookie sheet. So here we have before:
Hearty crust. Not too dense. Comes together easily. Oh, yes. We have a winner. So however you get your Irish on this year, I hope your day is green and full of good cheer, and hopefully with a slice of soda bread. Look, I’ve done all the hard work for you. And would someone please pass the butter before my slice cools down.